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Helicopter Shipping: Keys to Success

by | Oct 7, 2022 | Blog Post

The average cost of a new helicopter is about $2 million USD, with the most expensive brands costing up to $27 million. That’s why helicopter shipping is such a concern for sellers and buyers who need this expensive cargo to arrive on time and damage free.

Making that happen is a job for experts. Shipping helicopters is often a complex project that can require special equipment like cranes and customized packaging crates to ensure secure carriage of this oversized and sensitive equipment.

If you have an occasional or regular need for helicopter shipping services, here are some things to consider.


It starts with planning

There are two types of vacation travelers. One is the free spirit who prefers spontaneity – deciding to visit a destination without pre-planning and then figuring it out as they go. The other is the planner who books flights and hotels early and pre-buys tickets to tourist attractions so each day is meticulously planned out to the minute.

There’s no place for the free spirit in helicopter shipping. These projects require detailed plans that consider every step of the process, including seamless coordination with partners for specialized services.

It helps to work with an aerospace logistics specialist that can ship helicopters in your required lane. These partners are likely to have good working relationships with airlines, steamship lines, air ride truck operators, lashing specialists, and other partners for project logistics. Every freight office, carrier and sub-contractor involved needs clear instructions on shipping procedures – with follow up to ensure full understanding. Naturally, the plan must also be communicated to you as the shipper.

Plans include detailed routing for hangar-to-hangar service, globally. Ground transportation may require special trucking services and even permits for moving out-of-gauge cargo (OOG) over the road with escort service. All this must be considered and secured well in advance.

Insurance is important and should always be part of the planning process since regular cargo insurance would cover only a fraction of a helicopter’s value if it were damaged.

Beware of shipping partners who say they have a plan for helicopter shipping. There is no generic plan. Each project is different based on the type and number of helicopters being shipped.


Shipment preparation and mode choice

For whatever mode you choose to ship your helicopters, there is critical prep work involved. The helicopter itself will be fully built prior to shipment, and shipping will involve some dis-assembly and re-assembly, as well as extra protection of sensitive equipment and the helicopter’s exterior.

  • Palletizing, blocking and bracing. Your freight forwarding partner should be on site to supervise this step to ensure little or no movement of equipment during transport.
  • Shrink wrapping. This is a time-consuming process but well worth it to prevent scratches in transit and any exposure to rain or excess heat. Multiple layers of shrink wrap are actually used for maximum protection.
  • On-site cranes and special pallets. These are often required to stabilize and safely move the helicopter into place.

In terms of mode choice for helicopter shipping, that will depend upon shipment transit time requirements and budget. For long-haul international freight, airlift is the fastest, safest option – but also the most expensive.  You can ship small and medium-sized helicopters on regular freighter flights.

Ocean freight is a less expensive option if fast delivery service is not necessary. Some small helicopters can fit into a 40’ high cube container and medium-sized copters can be handled with a 40’ flat rack.

For domestic only shipments, a flatbed truck, lowboy trailer or roll-tite trailer may be used, depending on the height and width of the helicopter.

Many helicopter shipping projects are international and multimodal, such as Dimerco’s contract to ship 30 Bell 407 helicopters from Canada to the final consignee in China with an average transit time by air of 7-days, hangar-to-hangar.

The following is a summary of another helicopter shipping project.

Moving helicopters from Italy to Indonesia

helicopter shipmentFor a leading aerospace manufacturer, Dimerco’s agent managed the successful and cost-effective shipment of 11 Leonardo helicopters from Italy to Indonesia. Working with Dimerco’s JV company, Uniair Cargo, the team in Jakarta helped manage the end-to-end process that included customized protection and last-mile delivery from port to customer. Dimerco’s helicopter logistics team carefully planned out a safe, compliant route from the port to the final destination. Unloading required 2 cranes, 2 forklifts, and 3 special nine-meter dollies. In addition, Dimerco arranged for a certified lashing company to make 2 customized wing boxes to ensure secure carriage.


Get the paperwork right

Costly shipments like this will attract the attention of Customs authorities for both used or new helicopters, so it’s essential to get the shipment paperwork right to prevent delays and unnecessary charges.

You should work with a freight forwarder that offers expert customs brokerage services. That partner can work with you to prepare key international shipping documents such as commercial invoices, the shipper’s letter of intent, and all import/export documentation. A forwarder that specializes in the aerospace industry will be familiar with the whole transportation process. They can contact Customs and carriers in advance for the incoming helicopters and work with you to prepare and verify that the right documents are completed – commercial invoice, packing list, export permit, dangerous goods declaration and export/import documentation etc. – to comply with carriers’ and Customs’ requirements for different helicopter models. For used helicopters, the forwarder may communicate with Customs to make sure the declared cost in the commercial invoice is recognized.

One of the biggest fears for helicopter shippers is having a Customs issue at destination. The right partner should provide country-specific import solutions that rely on a solid understanding of local customs procedures.


Communication and coordination

If you hire a professional to plan your wedding, you expect that person not only to make the arrangements but to communicate closely with you every step of the way. You want zero surprises on the big day

It’s no different with helicopter shipping. There needs to be close collaboration with all subcontractors and constant communication to keep you in the loop. Here are things you should expect:

  • On-site coordination by your forwarding partner at origin and destination.
  • Online visibility to shipment milestones.
  • Photos taken at key points by your freight forwarder or their carrier partners.
  • Immediate notification if milestones are missed, with clear contingency plans, if needed.

When shipping fragile, high-value cargo, you want and deserve peace of mind throughout the journey.


Hire an expert

Just because you can drive a Mercedes-Benz sedan doesn’t mean you can drive an 18-wheeler. Likewise, not all freight forwarders and 3PLs have the experience and training to handle the intricacies of helicopter shipping. Dimerco has had opportunities to ship many helicopter brands, such as Bell, Airbus , Robinson, Enstrom, and Leonardo.

To discuss Dimerco’s helicopter shipping capabilities, contact us to arrange a discussion.